NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 15 March) — The country has been in lockdown mode at various levels of geographic restrictions for a year today. On the day the stringent measure was imposed to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19), which is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the infection cases registered at 140 and deaths at 12.
Today on lockdown anniversary, infection caseload is at least 621,000 and deaths tallied at least 12,000. The Philippines, which holds the record of having imposed the longest coronavirus lockdown in the whole world, is now the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in Southeast Asia.
Infection surges, on the average of 5,000 new cases / day, surfaced as the shutdown suffered from various violations, some committed by the government itself, in such untimely and countervailing policies as the “Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa” and the “Hatid Probinsya” program. The first aimed to decongest the metropolis by encouraging residents to return to the countryside with attractive benefits like housing, livelihoods or a piece of land to till. The Hatid program, on the other hand, was to assist local travelers, who were stranded in the metro by the lockdown, return to their places of origin. However good the intention may be, the catchy policies undermined the very aim and reasons for the lockdown.
It doesn’t help that the distribution of cash benefits under the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) was carried out in a manner where the health protocols on COVID-19, like social distancing and avoidance of crowds, were violated.
Needless to say, because not all supposed beneficiaries were reached by the SAP assistance for inefficiency and ineptitude, some would be forced to break lockdown regulations if only to find ways to feed hungry families.
Thus, the daily infections have not been cleared from four digits in the lockdown period.
It is ironic that at the time of the arrival and subsequent rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, SARS-CoV-2 variants also reached our shores, spiking menacingly the infection cases, which now threaten again to overwhelm the country’s health care system. A day before the lockdown anniversary, the infection cases reached 4,887, slightly lower than the 5,000 the previous day – the highest ever since the record infections of 6,958 on August 10, 2020. The UP-OCTA research team forecasts 8,000 cases / day by the end of the month (March).
From February 28, 2021 to March 7, 2021, a total of 1,125,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines arrived in the Philippines: 600,000 Sinovac vaccines donated by China and 525,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines from the World Health Organization (WHO)-led COVAX facility.
The vaccine rollout began on March 1. As of March 11, it was reported that 114,000 individuals have been inoculated or an average of 10,000 persons / day. At this pace, it would take some 112 days or some four months yet before the currently available vaccines will be consumed. This apparently low rollout performance might risk the delivery of the remaining five million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines set for the country by the COVAX facility of the WHO. Senator Lacson chided authorities on the current pace of the rollout, which if not accelerated, would only, accordingly, allow the country to attain herd immunity in 11 years and eight months or in 2033, assuming the vaccines are available.
The vaccination program is crucial in reviving the economy and in restoring our way of life. It is imperative to improve it to greater performance. Massive and persuasive information drive should be conducted to counter resistance to vaccination alongside the rapid inoculation of those who are willing possibly within the first to the third priority targets. Also, the availability of the vaccines is firmly secured and its delivery to various destinations is smoothly enhanced.
Time is the essence. The vaccination ought to be several times faster than the rate of transmission of the mutant virus, if we are to reclaim normalcy in our lives.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental.)